1904, Leipzig, Germany– 1989, Antibes, France
Hans Hartung was a French-German artist known for his lyrical abstractions and involvement in the Art Informel movement. Hartung’s idiosyncratic paintings and lithographs were created with distinctive swirls, scribbles, and hatch marks, he made by scratching, erasing, and reapplying pigment. “The first and most important thing is to remain free, free in each line you undertake, in your ideas and in your political action, in your moral conduct,” he once stated. “The artist especially must remain free from all outer restraints.”
Born on September 21, 1904 in Leipzig, Germany, Hartung studied philosophy and art history at Leipzig University but left before graduating to study art at academies in Dresden, Leipzig, and Munich. Moving to Paris in the late-1920s, the artist joined the French Foreign Legion and was later imprisoned by the Gestapo during World War II, both for serving in a foreign army and his “degenerate” painting style. After the war, Hartung became associated with the artists Jean Fautrier and Pierre Soulages, who had also adopted a spontaneous and gestural style free from rigid formal constraints. Hartung’s work would go on to have a significant impact on American abstract painters during the early 1960s, including Helen Frankenthaler and Sam Francis.
Rather than trying to control the process as earlier abstract painters had, Hartung applied paint with garden rakes, spray paint, and olive branches, embracing accidental and unexpected outcomes. “In my opinion the painting which is called abstract is none of the ‘Isms’ of which there have been so many lately,” he said. “It is neither a ‘style’ nor an ‘epoch’ in art history, but merely a new means of expression, a different human language—one which is more direct than that of earlier painting.” Notable influences include Emil Nolde, Oskar Kokoschka, and other German expressionists.
The artist died on December 7, 1989 in Antibes, France. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Tate Gallery in London, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., among others.